That has been the case this week as the Los Angeles Times has held back the name of the child that former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger fathered with a woman who worked for years in his Brentwood home.
Times political reporter Mark Z. Barabak broke the big story (along with reporter Victoria Kim) at about midnight Monday on this website. It appeared in Tuesday's print edition of the paper, setting off a furor that has swept across other newspapers, television, radio and the Internet. Virtually every news organization I could find has named the one-time Schwarzenegger employee and provided other details about the politician-movie star's secret child.
The Times has not only declined to name the woman, but is also not disclosing the name, age or sex of her child.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Times Editor Russ Stanton gave me a statement explaining why the Times didn't publish the name.
"The public has a legitimate interest in the behavior of someone who held high office in this state and is likely to remain prominent for a long time," Stanton said. "Schwarzenegger’s conduct is what was newsworthy.
"In some circumstances, it might be necessary or appropriate to reveal the identity of a politician’s mistress," he continued. "In this situation, we thought it was not. We hewed to the principle of protecting the identity of an innocent child.
"To have identified the mother would, in effect, have been to identify the child. Different media companies have different standards. We will stick by ours, regardless of what others do."
By 3:45 a.m. Tuesday morning, the celebrity website TMZ was on the story. Later in the day, it identified the mistress and began running pictures of the child, with the face obscured. From pictures Wednesday of television news crews swarming around the woman's home in Bakersfield, it was clear the Times' position was not shared by a lot of others.
ABC flashed a picture of the woman on the morning news. TMZ had a veritable album of photos, including one in which the young child's face could be seen. The New York Times named the woman, described the "quiet cul-de-sac" where she lives and provided other details of her life, though the paper did not name her child.
(An Associated Press account I read also did not give the woman's name, although it described the media mob scene around her home and interviewed neighbors--and named the family dog.)
New York Times Editor Bill Keller emailed his thoughts on identifying the mistress. "Our basic job is to inform readers about news events, so we need a pretty compelling reason NOT to give readers information we think they care about," Keller wrote, in part. "We're sensitive to privacy issues, but in this case we don't see that compelling reason to keep our readers in the dark."
Keller added: "Often — as in the Schwarzenegger case — we withhold the names of children, because they are particularly vulnerable....
"The employee who had Schwarzenegger's child is a more complicated question. We don't know enough about the circumstances to know whether, or in what degree, she was a victim, beyond the obvious fact that there was a serious imbalance of power in the relationship.
"But there's nothing to suggest that reliving the earlier experience is likely to be traumatizing in the sense rape victims describe (she's lived with it — and worked for him -- for 10 or 15 years). And the reality is, there is not much privacy left for us to protect."
Even the smarmier corners of the Web seemed to be withholding the child's name. Though that did not mean it couldn't be found.
A news assignment manager at television's NBC4 in Los Angeles issued a Twitter message Wednesday listing the name and purported age. It appears that the NBC employee, David Reese, got the age wrong.
When I asked him if he would put the information about the child on the air, the response suggested Reese had suffered an instance of Itchy-Twitterfinger Syndrome.
His Twitter message to me about the use of the child's name: "We're not putting it out at all ... I should not have tweeted it."
They talk about the Fog of War. There's also something like the Fog of Celebrity. In the rush to get some part of the story of the moment, proportion and judgment can fly out the window.
Photo: Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has admitted that he had an affair with a former household employee, an affair that produced a child. The L.A. Times, which broke the story, has not identified the child but many other news outlets have. Credit: Matt Sayles/ Associated Press